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Archive for the ‘Waiting on God’ Category

Tan: DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL

SOURCE:  Taken from Disciplines of the Holy Spirit by S.Y. Tan

Occasionally the Lord leads us into a time of isolation and solitude that can only be described, in the words of St. John of the Cross, as a “dark night of the soul.”  We may feel dry, in despair, or lost.  God may seem absent, His voice silent.  The prophet Isaiah declared, “Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God” (Isa. 50:10).

Such dark times can be pregnant with God’s purpose; they can be times in which we are stripped of our overdependence on the emotional life, on things of this world, and on ourselves.  “The dark night” is one of the ways the Spirit slows our pace, even bringing us to a halt, so that He can work an inner transformation of the heart and soul.

Those who are hungry for God can expect to be drawn or driven into times of dryness or confusion, where faith and dependence on God are tested and deepened.

A. W. Tozer describes this process as the “ministry of the night.”  In these times, God seems to be at work to take away from our hearts everything we love most.  Everything we trust in seems lost to us.  Our most precious treasures turn to piles of ashes.

In times like these, says Tozer:

 

Slowly you will discover God’s love in your suffering.  Your heart will begin to approve the whole thing.  You will learn from yourself what all the schools in the world could not teach you – the healing action of faith without supporting pleasure. You will feel and understand the ministry of the night; its power to purify, to detach, to humble, to destroy the fear of death, and what is more important to you at the moment, the fear of life.  And you will learn that sometimes pain can do what even joy cannot, such as exposing the vanity of earth’s trifles and filling your heart with longing for the peace of heaven.

 

As we seek to draw near to God, we can expect to have times in our lives when we too experience the “ministry of the night.”  Our best response during these seasons is to wait upon God, trust Him, be still, and pray.

 

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God Is Working in Your Waiting

SOURCE:  /Desiring God

Most parents would agree that their children don’t want to wait for anything. The last thing kids want to hear is Mom say, “Not now.” It can prompt anger, frustration, even hopelessness. This “dis-ease” of waiting follows most of us into our adult years. We may not respond with the same emotional outbursts as children, but most of us still hate waiting for what we want.

And our modern society just makes it worse. We want everything done quickly — and new devices constantly spring up to meet those demands and encourage our impatience. We are not used to waiting, and the more our technology caters to our immediate desires, the less we feel willing to wait.

Such is our dilemma as Christians. While society makes every attempt to make our life easier and faster, God works on a very different timetable. In his mind, nothing is wrong with waiting. In fact, waiting can actually be a positive good that he often uses to make us more like his Son.

God Works While We Wait

Something actually happens while nothing is happening. God uses waiting to change us.

The story of Adam and Eve is a story of rebellion against God. Once they believed that God didn’t have their best interests in mind, they decided to go ahead without God and do what they wanted. They became, in effect, their own god. Too often, this is exactly what we do today. When God tells us to wait, we don’t trust him, but go ahead and find ways to accomplish what we want to happen.

This tendency to push God to the side goes against his plan for us. It creates distance in our relationship with him. It causes us to get into trouble and brings pain. What good is it to gain the whole world now — whatever it is we think we want — and forfeit our souls’ intimacy with God (Mark 8:36)?

God wants us to learn how to follow him and put down our demanding selves — to calm that screaming child in us. One way he helps us do this is to say, “Wait.” That miserable, uncomfortable, sometimes painful state of silence is one of God’s most powerful tools to set us free.

If we are willing, that is.

Choosing at the Crossroads

We don’t start out willing to wait. Our natural response to waiting is often anger or doubt. Fortunately, God is gracious and merciful, understanding of our tendencies. Simply feeling deep, complex emotions in waiting — especially for significant things, like a pregnancy or a job — is not necessarily sinful in itself. But we can decide where those emotions take us.

We can decide to exalt these feelings. We might act on them by taking matters into our own hands. Or perhaps we will not act, but we’ll make an idol out of the good for which we are waiting — every passing day is another log on the fires of bitterness, impatience, ingratitude, perhaps even resentment against the God who won’t give us what we want.

Or, by God’s grace, we can choose to wait as he intends. “Waiting on the Lord is the opposite of running ahead of the Lord, and it’s the opposite of bailing out on the Lord,” writes John Piper. “It’s staying at your appointed place while he says stay, or it’s going at his appointed pace while he says go. It’s not impetuous, and it’s not despairing.”

We have the choice, then, to take a deep breath, release our clenched hands, and let God be God. And we are invited to continue hoping in his greatness.

Pray for God to Work in You

Certainly, only one of these options will bring us joy. As we seek to accept and rejoice in God’s handling of our lives, including his timing, we can ask God to work in us two main things, so that our waiting is not in vain: humility and trust.

1. Humility

Sometimes, when I’ve found myself getting impatient and upset, I will remind myself that God is the one who put me here. My life is not my own. This is humility. It is coming to realize that we are a breath and God owes us nothing (Psalm 39:5; Luke 17:7–10).

2. Trust

Then comes trust, which means believing at least two things about God: he is powerful, and he is loving.

Believing God is powerful means that we know he is in charge of what’s happening; things are not arbitrary or out of his control. He is capable of both helping us and changing things. Much of our anxiety in waiting is because we forget that “God is able to make all grace abound to you” (2 Corinthians 9:8). You are not at the mercy of your circumstances.

Believing God is loving means that there is care and purpose behind all that he does. It means that he is faithful to help us right now and bring us blessings later. It means that his judgment and timing is always perfectly good. True, he owes us nothing, yet he has promised to give us everything we need (Philippians 4:19).

Even during that long road of silence, God cares deeply for us. We can be like David and remind ourselves, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14).

Blessing of Waiting in Faith

Some of the greatest figures in the Bible — Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David — had to wait for many years for God’s promises. Everything that happened in the meantime was used to prepare them, inwardly as well as outwardly. Then, when they reached their promise, they were blessed beyond measure.

God invites us to trust in his goodness today and his faithfulness tomorrow. Relinquishing control to him is the main route to experience his love and peace. It unites our hearts with his. It creates a level of maturity and character that we will take with us into the future, and it enables us to enjoy his future blessings all the more.

Divine Words for Desperate Parents

SOURCE:  Nancy Guthrie/The Gospel Coalition

I’m not exactly sure how it happens, but almost as soon as we visit the doctor to confirm we’re pregnant we start getting coupons for formula and diapers and magazines that include all kinds of articles about how to raise healthy, well-adjusted children. All of these “five steps to . . .” and “ten ways to get your child to . . . ” articles can fool us into thinking if we try hard enough and do everything right, our child will become and do what we want.

But anyone who’s been a parent for long knows parenting requires a lot more than simply following the right steps to success. To raise a child toward godliness, we need much more than the good advice parenting experts have to offer. We need what only the Scriptures have to offer.

We need the commands and expectations of Scripture to keep us from complacency, and the grace and mercy of Scripture to save us from guilt. We need Scripture to puncture the pride that rises up in us when our child is doing well and we’re tempted to take the credit. And we need Scripture to save us from the despair that threatens to sink us when our child is floundering and we’re tempted to take all the blame.

While we have influence and responsibility, we don’t have control over our child. We can teach our child the Scriptures, but we can’t be the Holy Spirit in our child’s life. We can confront sinful patterns that need to change, but we can’t generate spiritual life that leads to lasting change. Only the Spirit can do that.

What we can do is pray for and parent our child the best we know how. We can keep trusting God to do what we cannot.

But how or what do we pray? The Scriptures help us with that, too. In particular the Psalms—divine words God has given us to talk and sing to him—provide us with not only wisdom and perspective for parenting, but also with words for prayer.

In His Grip, Not Ours

From the time they’re newborns, we’re concerned about our children’s progress. We want to know what we can do—what we can feed them, what we can teach them, how we can train them—to keep them moving toward a bright future.

During the school years, our parental fear or confidence rises and falls on how well our children are progressing in school and sports, as well as physically and socially. As they emerge into young adulthood, we can’t help but set mental timelines for them to finish their education, find a mate, and establish a career. And all along the way, we often think and act and feel as if it’s up to us and our children to chart out a path for their lives—and to make it happen.

But King David knew otherwise. He recognized he wasn’t ultimately in control of where he came from or where he was headed. Nor did he want to be.

I am trusting you, O LORD, saying, “You are my God!” My future is in your hands. (Ps. 31:14–15)

Our child’s future is not in our hands. It’s not under our control. It’s not in their hands either; it’s in God’s.

Meditating on Psalm 31 helps us to pray: Lord, I find myself obsessing over many aspects of who my child will be and what he will do. But I know my child’s future is not in my hands. And deep down I don’t want it to be. The safest place to be—the place of favor and blessing—is in your hands.

In His Strength, Not Ours

As parents we tend to be pretty hard on ourselves. We’re well aware of our deficiencies and our hypocrisies. We’re determined not to raise our own children in some of the ways we were raised, yet we instinctively repeat similar patterns. We want to listen, but we’re distracted. We want to play, but we have so much work to do. We want to engage helpfully, but so much of what we throw out there doesn’t seem to stick. Even our most brilliant efforts at parenting don’t always work well.

In Psalm 103 we find good news for those of us who have failed our child, good news for those of us who have been angry, impatient, or cold.

The LORD is like a father to his children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are;
he remembers we are only dust. (Ps. 103:13–14)

We have a Father who is tender and compassionate toward us. He’s not pointing fingers or putting us on trial. He is mindful of our limitations and frustrations. He knows how weak we are in faith, in discipline, in consistency, in wisdom, and in relational skills. He remembers we are dust, doing the best we can in a world we don’t control to raise kids we don’t ultimately control. We have a Father who works in and through our weaknesses to put his own power and strength on display.

Meditating on Psalm 103 helps us to pray: Father, we need your tenderness to release us from our regrets, and we need your compassion to assure us of your long-term commitment to see us through all the seasons and struggles of parenting.

By His Voice, Not Ours

When we read Psalm 29, we get the sense that David is looking up at the sky, watching the progress of a storm sweeping over Israel. But he’s not just watching it. He’s hearing what the Lord is saying to him through it.

The voice of the LORD echoes above the sea. The God of glory thunders.
The LORD thunders over the mighty sea.
The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic.
The voice of the LORD splits the mighty cedars; the LORD shatters the cedars of Lebanon. (Ps. 29:3–5)

The Lord’s voice is shattering. The same voice that splits the mighty cedars of Lebanon can cut through any resistance our children have toward God.

The Lord’s voice is striking. It can speak to our children like a gentle rain of gradual understanding or like a lightning strike of life-changing insight.

The Lord’s voice is shaking. It can jolt our children out of their apathy and comfort.

The Lord’s voice is stripping. Just as it leaves the forest bare, it can peel away negative attitudes and arguments from our children’s hearts and minds.

Meditating on Psalm 29 helps us to pray: Lord, we long for our child to hear you speaking. Won’t you sweep down over our home in the way David saw you sweeping through Israel? Come and let your mighty, majestic voice be heard.

In His Timing, Not Ours

How hard it can be to wait on God. When we’ve prayed for months or years and see no visible signs of change, no tangible evidence of God at work, we can begin to lose hope. We wonder not only if heaven is closed to us, but if there’s really anyone there, listening and able to act.

I am sick at heart. How long, O LORD, until you restore me? (Ps. 6:3)

When we’re sick at heart over the direction of or difficulty in our child’s life, we can be sure God will restore us to a healthy confidence that he is at work. When we’re worn out from sobbing over the pain in our child’s life, we can be sure the Lord has heard our weeping. He has heard our pleas and will answer. It may not be today or tomorrow. In fact, God may not accomplish all the healing and restoration we long for in this lifetime. But we can be sure the day will come when his work in our lives and in the lives of our children will be brought to completion. And in light of eternity, it won’t seem it took very long at all.

Meditating on Psalm 6 helps us to pray: Lord, I am impatient for you to accomplish all you intend in my child’s life. But I am not hopeless. Even when I don’t see you working, I will trust you are. Even when it seems it’s taking too long, I trust you to accomplish all you intend to accomplish, and I have faith you will complete it on time.

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Adapted from Nancy Guthrie’s The One Year Book of Praying Through the Bible for Your Kids.

Waiting: Out of the Shadows

SOURCE:  Charles Swindoll

Some of you who read these words today could use a little extra hope, especially if you find yourself in a waiting mode.

You were once engaged in the action, doing top-priority work on the front lines. No longer. All that has changed. Now, for some reason, you’re on the shelf. It’s tough to stay encouraged perched on a shelf. Your mind starts playing tricks on you.

Though you are well-educated, experienced, and fairly gifted in your particular field, you are now waiting. You’re wondering, and maybe you’re getting worried, that this waiting period might be permanent. Admittedly, your response may not be all that great. You can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. It just doesn’t seem fair. After all, you’ve trained hard, you’ve jumped through hoops, and you’ve even made the necessary sacrifices. Discouragement crouches at the door, ready to pounce on any thought or hope, so you sit wondering why God has chosen to pass you by.

I want to offer you some encouragement, but I need to start with a realistic comment: it may be a long time before God moves you into a place of significant impact. He may choose not to reveal His plan for weeks, maybe months.

Are you ready for this?

It could be years.

I have found that one of God’s favorite methods of preparing us for something great is to send us into the shadows to wait.

But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to terminal darkness. Take heart from the words of British author James Stalker who wrote, “Waiting is a common instrument of providential discipline for those to whom exceptional work has been appointed.”

Pause and let that sink in. Read the statement again, slower this time.

Waiting is one of God’s preferred methods of preparing special people for significant projects. The Bible makes that principle plain from cover to cover.

As Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the LORD.”

God often prepares us for something great by sending us into the shadows to wait.

Secret Wisdom in the Wake of Suffering

SOURCE:  Marshall Segal/Desiring God

Wisdom may be as basic a human need as air, water, or shelter.

We all need guidance and direction, and we need it today and every day.

If you don’t think you need wisdom, then you need it even more than the rest of us. We make decisions every day that require wisdom — in choosing what to do or not do, in meetings at work, in loving our spouse, in our routine at home, in parenting our children, in weathering heartache and suffering.

Job was starved for wisdom in the wake of perhaps the greatest personal tragedy ever recorded. He lost one thousand oxen and five hundred donkeys to thieves (Job 1:3, 14–15), and his servants watching over the animals were slaughtered (Job 1:15). Only moments later, fire fell from the sky and burned his seven thousand sheep, along with the servants tending them (Job 1:16). Then, all three thousand of his camels were seized in another raid, and the servants responsible for them murdered (Job 1:17). Lastly, and most tragically, Job’s own sons and daughters all were killed — seven young men, and three precious girls. A strong wind struck their house, causing the roof to collapse on them (Job 1:2, 18–19).

Can you imagine not just losing one child but ten — and all in one horrifying moment?

Job lost his ten children that one afternoon, along with almost everyone else he loved and almost everything else he owned. Then Satan even attacked his body, spreading sores from his head to his feet (Job 2:7), adding awful pain and irritation to his already unbearable grief and distress.

Few, if any, have known suffering like Job.

The book is one long, excruciating wrestling with why — an impossible mountain climb to wisdom in suffering’s dead of winter. Why all of the oxen, donkeys, sheep, and camels, Lord? Why did they have to kill my servants? Why give me the blessing of ten children — knit together delicately, delivered safely, held and raised lovingly, prized immensely — and then ripped right out of my arms? Why add insult to injury, covering my grieving, lonely body with agony? Why?

Who Sinned That Job Should Suffer?

Job says, “Where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?” (Job 28:12).

He’s listened to his well-meaning, but misguided friends fumble for answers for more than twenty-five chapters now — most of their counsel and advice spent accusing him of wrongdoing, presuming the waves of suffering fell on him because of some unconfessed sin. While he did misspeak at times (Job 38:2), Job carries a confidence that God is not punishing sin, but doing something profound and mysterious in all the sorrow.

His friends play the naïve and simplistic role of Jesus’s disciples — “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). What sin did Job commit to deserve loss, death, and pain like this? With less clarity, but great faith, Job echoes what Jesus would say hundreds of years later, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). It was not because of sin that my livelihood was stolen, or my servants killed, or my sons and daughters crushed, but because God, in great love and mercy, wants the whole world to see his glory.

And in his infinite wisdom, only God knew exactly how that will happen — in Job’s life and in ours.

The Author and Fountain of Wisdom

Where is wisdom like God’s found? Job says, “It is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the air” (Job 28:21). We will not find the right answers in the world — in newspapers, books, schools, or with Google. The world is filled with knowledge, opinion, and passion, but is starving for wisdom. So where should we turn when we’re searching for wisdom — for answers — in the midst of disappointment, suffering, and tragedy?

“God understands the way to it, and he knows its place. For he looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. When he gave to the wind its weight and apportioned the waters by measure, when he made a decree for the rain and a way for the lightning of the thunder, then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out.” (Job 28:23–27)

Only one holds the wisdom we need in the blinding, deafening wake of pain and loss. He sees everything everywhere all at once, and all the time. He weighs and wields the wind — imagine how hard it would be for Job to say those words after seeing his dead children.

God weaved the world with wisdom and runs the world with wisdom, including every drop of rain, every cool summer breeze, and every hurricane-force gust.

Fear the God of Comfort

But how do we search the infinite mind of God to find comfort for our sorrow and hope for our future?

Job goes on, “[The Lord] said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding’” (Job 28:28; alsoProverbs 3:7). Are you asking Why? in the midst of terrible suffering or sudden tragedy? Draw near to the awesome God of the universe, and away from every other way people try and deal with their pain. Forsake sin and all its empty promises to heal and comfort you. Run, instead, to the Author and Perfecter of your faith (Hebrews 12:2), as well as the loving Father and Worker in your pain (Romans 8:28).

The fear of the Lord is not terror, but awe-filled faith. “The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied” (Proverbs 19:23; alsoProverbs 14:27). Christians live and suffer with a fearful rest and satisfaction in God. The believers in the early church walked “in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:31). One kind of fear breeds clarity and comfort, rather than anxiety and confusion. Isaiah says, “Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary” (Isaiah 8:13–14).

If God and his wisdom are our comfort and confidence, we will walk away from foolishness and evil. Satan makes sin even more tantalizing in suffering — brighter colors, louder notes, sweeter smells. But faith knows the comfort we need is waiting in the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). We do not envy sinners (Proverbs 23:17), because we know that disaster and confusion — not freedom, clarity, or healing — are the fruits of sin.

In the face of devastating news, our gut reaction and temptation might be to doubt God or run from him. But heart-wrenching wisdom and understanding are not found anywhere deep inside ourselves or somewhere far from God, but woven into his wise and sovereign love for us.

We cannot capture or completely grasp his wisdom, but we can worship him and trust him with all the painful unknowns in life.

It’s Never Too Late for Jesus

SOURCE:  desiringgod.org /Constantine Campbell 

Death is the great enemy, though many of us live in denial of it.

Our culture tries to hide death. We don’t see bodies in the streets, as in some parts of the world. Corpses go straight to the morgue or the funeral home — out of sight and out of mind. Many of us have never seen a dead body. Fewer have witnessed a person actually die. We would rather not think about death, we don’t like to talk about it, and we’d prefer to pretend it won’t happen to us.

But it will happen to us. In fact, in one hundred years from now, everyone reading this will be dead. Does that sound harsh? That’s because it is harsh! But it is also true.

Only as we confront the reality of death will we appreciate the hope of resurrection. There is nothing like death to make us desire resurrection.

John 11 begins with a sick Lazarus. His sisters Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus to come to Bethany (John 11:1–3). But Jesus does not go right away. He delays. In fact, he waits two days — until Lazarus is dead (John 11:4–7, 11, 14) — because he knows exactly what he is about to do.

Grieving with Hope

As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was approaching the village, she went to meet him, while Mary remained seated at the house (John 11:20). This is a little strange, isn’t it? Why does Martha go out to meet Jesus while Mary stays put? Is it simply that Martha is the more active of the two? Is it because she is the one who gets things done, while Mary likes to sit (Luke 10:38–42)? Maybe. Or maybe there is something else going on.

Martha’s words to Jesus must have been hard to hear: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Given his great power and the signs he has performed already, Martha believed that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’s death. But what she says next is extraordinary: “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:22). Martha does not know the end of this story, as we do. She has no idea what Jesus is about to do and she does not expect him to raise Lazarus from the dead. And yet she expresses hope even after death has occurred. It is as though she is saying, “I don’t know what you can do now, Jesus, but I have hope that you can do something.”

Jesus immediately comforts Martha by saying, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23). He tells her exactly what he plans to do, but Martha misunderstands: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24). While she misses Jesus’s direct meaning, her response is a good one. She expresses hope through theology. Martha holds to the Jewish belief in the resurrection of the dead that will occur on the last day (Daniel 12:1–2; John 5:28–29).

The Resurrection and the Life

Jesus takes Martha’s belief in resurrection at the last day and redirects it toward himself.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26a).

I don’t think Martha understood at that moment what Jesus said. How could Jesus be the resurrection? What does that mean? Why does resurrection occur for those who believe in Jesus? While she may harbor such questions, she responds again with belief when Jesus asks, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26b). “Yes, Lord,” Martha says, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” (John 11:27).

But why does Martha respond this way? Jesus says he is the resurrection and the life, and Martha says yes, you are the Christ. What is the connection between the Christ and resurrection? Again Martha shows herself to be a theologian as she seems to understand the connection. In 2 Samuel 7:12–13, the LORD promises David that one of his offspring will rule on the throne that God will establish forever. If this Messiah is to rule forever, then surely he will not be ended by death. Either he will never die, or if he does die, he will not stay dead. There is thus a connection between resurrection and the Messiah, and Martha seems to understand that.

Grieving Without Hope

While Martha exhibits hope through theological insight, Mary’s interaction with Jesus is noticeably different. While Martha immediately went out to meet Jesus, Mary doesn’t go until Martha gets her (John 11:28). Then it is striking that Mary says the exact same thing that her sister said to Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32).

Mary utters the exact same words as Martha. But do they mean something different? Notice what Mary doesn’t say. She does not follow up this statement the way Martha did, with the words, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:22). No, Mary just says that Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’s death — period. But now he’s dead, so that’s that. There is no hope expressed.

It seems like Mary did not entertain the idea that Jesus could do anything now that death has come. Death, after all, is the great enemy. Jesus might be able to heal the blind (John 9), turn water into wine (John 2:1–12), and prevent death (John 4:46–54), but no one can do anything about death once death comes. Right?

Mary’s lack of hope in the face of death is understandable. Sure, Jesus is powerful and can do amazing things, but even today no one can do anything about death. With all our advanced science and medicine, the best we can do is delay death. We can put it off a while. But we cannot prevent it from happening in the end. And once it happens, there is nothing we can do about it. The finality of death is clear to all humanity — past and present. Mary accepts this finality and there is no hope.

Jesus Can Always Do Something

Jesus’s response to Mary also contrasts Martha. After Martha expressed hope, Jesus comforted her with the amazing words that Lazarus would rise again and that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. But what is his response to Mary? There is no word of comfort. There is no theological promise. He just says, “Where have you laid him?” (John 11:34).

But it’s also interesting to note Jesus’s nonverbal response to Mary: “When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, he was angry in his spirit and troubled” (John 11:33). Most translations smooth out the phrase, “he was angry,” but this is what the text literally says. It is smoothed out because it is not clear why Jesus is angry. Why is he angry when he sees Mary’s grief?

The usual explanation is that Jesus is angry at the tyranny of death. He is angry to see what death does to relationships and to those left behind. It is awful. It is wrong. This reason for Jesus’s anger makes sense, but there might be another explanation. Could it be that Jesus is angry and troubled because Mary grieves as one without hope? After all, he was not angry in his encounter with Martha, who expressed hope.

In fact, Jesus gets angry a second time (John 11:38), but this is in response to what Mary’s fellow mourners say: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37). Ignoring the paragraph break, Jesus’s immediate response is again to become angry. Could it be that he is angry because they too lack hope in the face of death? Yes, the crowd knows Jesus is powerful — he opened the eyes of the blind man — he could have prevented Lazarus’s death. But once death has occurred? Not even Jesus can do anything about that, right?

Wrong.

Neither Martha nor Mary knew that the story would end with a resurrected Lazarus. Mary saw death as the end, and not even Jesus could fix that. But Martha put her theology to work together with a trust that Jesus could always do something.

We should be more like Martha.

5 Things to Do When God Seems Distant

SOURCE:  Rebecca Rene Jones/Relevant Magazine

A few ways to wait well.

That June, I stood at the podium draped in black cap and gown. I was 18, my tassel dancing as I lifted lips to the mic and delivered a valedictory address full of all the right bluster: Drive slow and enjoy the brave journey. Believe in your beauty. Live out loud.

Two months later, in August, I moved into my freshman dorm. Three days in, my dad died.

After his funeral, I unplugged my mini-fridge. I hiked across campus to the registrar’s office, surrendered my meal card, un-enrolled. I stripped my mattress clean of my new sheet set and hugged my roommates an awkward goodbye. On the ride home, I began what would flower into months of questioning all of it: my dreams, my design, my direction. I balled my fist, banged hard on heaven’s screen door, and here’s the hard part: For a while, God kept quiet.

If you, too, find yourself here, on this same front porch, famished for even the faintest nudge in the right direction—sit down. Here’s what I know about waiting when God feels distant.

Know That What You’re Experiencing Is Normal

It is so unshockingly normal that C.S. Lewis actually said our fluctuating feelings about God were perhaps the only constant of our faith. “The law of Undulation,” he nicknamed it. In a nutshell, “undulation” implies that the Christian walk is a back and forth rocking between sweet “communications of His presence” and then, later: wilderness and soul-numbing silence.

In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis writes that God “withdraws, if not in fact, (then) at least from … conscious experience … He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish.” This may seem unpleasant, but it works in us something that’s critical to our spiritual maturity: a decoupling of our faith from our feelings about it.

Undulation forces us to go beyond our own gut—and beyond our circumstances—and agree that God is good and attentive even when life suggests otherwise.

Embrace Boring Things

Today’s temptation is to bide time by distracting ourselves. We are categorically bad at waiting, at welcoming quiet, at actively wanting from God. We are much better at filling in downtime and numbing our aches with Pinterest, Twitter and Netflix.

But God dares us to do something different: To stay expectant. To stay hungry. To practice hope, as Paul says, by patiently and confidently fixing our attention on the promises we don’t yet possess (Romans 8:24-25).

Carve out quiet places to remember what you’re hoping for. For me, after Dad died, that meant taking lots of lonesome bike rides and a tedious part-time job counting pills at a local pharmacy. It’d be a stretch to call these spiritual disciplines, but I’ll go to the mat for this: they helped me protect a precious hush that God eventually spoke into.

Tell God What You Think

It’s OK to be blunt. The great prophet Elijah even prayed to die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said (1 Kings: 19:4). His earnestness isn’t exactly an anomaly, either: so many psalms echo some version of this, peppering God with the same rolling questions: Why haven’t you moved sooner? Or in quite the way we’d hoped?

On the surface, they might seem presumptuous, but at their heartbeat, these questions are actually something different: They are appeals to God’s good character. They’re sincere questions that finger a perceived disconnect between who God says He is and why His action—or seeming lack of action—seems out of step with his nature.

Sometimes, we confuse waiting on God with plunking down until we’re handed crisp itineraries.

Don’t Demand Burning Bushes

God can use pyrotechnics, of course, but our brushes with Him aren’t always so theatrical. When we knock, ask and seek, sometimes He doesn’t match our decibel level.

God honors and often uplifts the quietly faithful, and what’s more: He often comes in the quiet. When God tells Elijah to wait before Him on the mountaintop, we witness something remarkable: God doesn’t show up where we think He’d appear. He’s not in the snapping windstorm, or the earthquake or the blaze. Elijah can’t find God’s voice in any of them. Then comes a gentle whisper, and it is so divinely flooded that Elijah covers his face with his cloak.

What if God intends to meet us precisely in the places we’d least imagine?

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